At New Orleans Museum, AI Lets You Talk to WWII Vets

Participants sat for as many as 1K questions each
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 24, 2024 12:20 PM CDT
At New Orleans Museum, AI Lets You Talk to WWII Vets
Theodore Britton, Jr., who served in the U.S. Marine 27th Marine Depot Company in the British Solomon Islands and Hawaii, talks with museum volunteer Jack Gross, center, at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 20, 2024.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Olin Pickens sat in his wheelchair facing a life-sized image of himself on a screen, asking it questions about being taken prisoner by German soldiers during World War II. After a pause, his video-recorded twin recalled being given "sauerkraut soup" by his captors before a grueling march. "That was a Tuesday morning, February the 16th," Pickens' onscreen likeness answered. "And so we started marching. We'd walk four hours, then we'd rest 10 minutes." Pickens is among 18 veterans of the war and its support effort featured in an interactive exhibit that opened Wednesday at the National WWII Museum. The exhibit uses artificial intelligence to let visitors hold virtual conversations with life-sized images of veterans, the AP reports.

"I'm making history, to see myself telling the story of what happened to me over there," said Pickens, who celebrated his 102nd birthday in December. "I'm so proud that I'm here, that people can see me." The Voices From the Front exhibit also enables visitors to the New Orleans museum to ask questions of war-era home front heroes and supporters of the US war effort—including a military nurse who served in the Philippines, an aircraft factory worker, and Margaret Kerry, a dancer who performed at USO shows and, after the war, was a model for the Tinker Bell character in Disney productions. Each participant sat for as many as a thousand questions about the war and their personal lives. Among the participants was Marine Corps veteran Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Wilson, a Medal of Honor winner who fought at Iwo Jima, Japan. He died in June 2022 after recording his responses. (Click for more on the exhibit, which was four years in the making, here.)

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